Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), German writer, statesman, and botanist, once made this statement: The senses do not deceive us, but the judgment does.1 Today, we might put it this way: We know how we feel, but we don’t know what’s best for us.
Teacher and approved professional mentor Gwen Morgan suggests several ways that we can keep from making bad decisions. One of those ways is to get all the information we can about what we’re wanting to do. Our decision-making is often influenced by information we get from external sources, including so-called experts. To make better decisions, we need to become confident enough to challenge, question, and interrogate to ensure that the information is actually valid, says Noreena Hertz, author of Eyes Wide Open: How to Make Smart Decisions in a Confusing World. Embrace your inner skeptic and never just assume that what you’re being told is always true.
Another thing to do is don’t think you are the exception when it comes doing what others have done only to fail. Spencer Greenberg, founder of New York City-based ClearerThinking, which develops decision-making training tools, says there are some common areas where many of us consistently make bad decisions. One of them is basing our decisions on an assumption of best-case scenarios and then guessing. Another is what might not be going right, and trying to fix it like putting a band-aid on it.
If there are chronic issues that plague our decision-making, such as not having enough time or information, we should pay particular attention to those areas. Getting caught up in the “what worked before” mindset or being too impressed with our own success are common pitfalls. When J.K. Rowling sent the first Harry Potter book to U.S. and U.K. publishers, they all turned it down because they just knew it wouldn’t work: What didn’t work was a book of that size. What didn’t work was a book for boys. What didn’t work was fantasy. But what it took for the book to become enormously successful was that it fell into the hands of a new director who wasn’t tied to doing things the old way.
Another thing that Spencer Greenberg suggests: look at our personal history. Unfortunately, some people often don’t learn from previous mistakes because it’s emotionally difficult to face up to them in the first place. But if you have areas in your life where you find a batch of mistakes or problems, you may need to shine some light on the issues and mend how you’re approaching your decision-making on those same things this time.
While Noreena Hertz, who is mentioned above, was researching her book Eyes Wide Open, says she found that our emotions and environment can have an impact on our decision-making. For example, when investors were given the same information on a red background versus a green background, they were more favorable to what was written on the red background. When judges were hungry, they tended to dole out harsher punishments. Her research also showed that just being aware of the environment and your feelings are enough to put you into a more objective state of mind. We know quite well that people who have just gone through a hurtful divorce often make rash decisions in finding a new partner in life.
Another thing may seem quite basic and logical, but that doesn’t mean we always do what we are supposed to be doing in preparing ourselves for decision making. For instance Getting enough sleep is a big factor in decision-making. When you’re tired or don’t feel well, you’re not likely to make the best decisions. This also goes for not watching what we eat, the things we do to entertain ourselves, and the people we hang around with.
Making a rash decision because something is on sale, or something is available for a limited time, or because want to be first to get in line are huge temptations. But to keep from making a bad decision we must take time to think. Noreena Hertz says the distraction deluge to which we’re subjected every day can undermine good decision-making. You can’t process information and think clearly while you’re answering texts, emails, and tweets. She recommends carving out at least 30 minutes a day to just think.
And finally, just because we don’t get the outcome we wanted doesn’t necessarily mean the decision we made was bad. Greenberg says that there are many times when even the best choice we have may lead to failure. The key is to learn from it and apply that lesson to the decision we make next time. Sometimes when we stand in front of long lines and shelves and shelves of boxed cereals, we may be looking for the cheapest kind or the one for which we have a coupon that will save us 50 cents. Based on that criteria we may end up making a bad choice. Think it over! What the best cereal for your health concerns.
What does the Bible say about decision making? A wise preacher a long ago time ago, put it this way, “There is a right time and a right way to do everything, but we know so little!”1 And in another place he says that if we’re afraid to plant seeds because of the wind, and if we’re afraid it will rain, will never have a harvest.2 King Solomon made this suggestion: Watch where you are going and you’ll be sure to get there.3
The Apostle James was clear in his understanding, if you know the right thing to do and fail to do it, that’s a big mistake.4 And the Apostle Paul warns us not to deceive ourselves, whatever we decide to do, we will get the expected result. That’s the way God designed things.5 In other words, you know you want to pass the test but if you cheat to do it you will suffer the consequences. If you know it’s against the law but decide to do it anyway, don’t be upset when you get caught and punished. By trying to force something that doesn’t fit into position anyhow, don’t be surprised if you break the whole thing. You’ll discover you made the wrong decision after it’s too late. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Ecclesiastes 8:6 – Good News Translation
2 Ibid. 11:4
3 Proverbs 4:26
4 James 4:27
5 Galatians 6:7